The Seymour Centre is abuzz with the Sydney Festival – all three venues are handling multiple shows of multiple genres and multiple bump in/outs. It’s exciting. In this wonderful carousel of acts is a show by American comic Mike Birbiglia.

Definitely a poster boy for arguments of why marriage is stupid, why bureaucracies should be punished for being absolutely stupid, and how ugly and gross making out is “It’s like watching a dog eat spaghetti.” But I am not one to bust open all the best gags in an evening of comedy (I can’t stand it when reviewers/critics hack open a production and scoop out all the jokes and spontaneous surprises, leaving us with the deflated skin of a show – I think it is selfish!) So I wrote this review trying to give a flavour of the show – without exposing the best parts. This is a fun show – part stand up, part storytelling -simple effective, clear story from a guy who is pretty relatable to.

I highly recommend this show – especially if you are over 28 and find relationships messy, dating embarrassing and awkward, have a love of analogy and believe in love. And really, at $30 you won’t find a better deal at the Sydney Festival (except if you want to get up at 4am and stand in line at Tix for Nix in Martin Place).

First Published on www.australianstage.com.au

Born in 1978, Mike Birbiglia is a comedian, writer (best-selling novelist and currently screenwriter amongst other literary pursuits), actor and sleepwalker. Not the most flattering photo advertises My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend – it’s like he’s been surprised by a camera, holding three melting ice-creams –naive and oblivious to how this looks. And it looks bad. It looks sad. And some of it is. But in fact, it is also hilarious.

Mike Birbiglia looks like any other guy. The kind of guy who you probably don’t notice standing in the queue in front of you at the movies, or the bar, or when buying ice-cream. Average height. Collared shirt ‘n’ t-shirt, jeans and sneakers… it’s the uniform of a stand up comic – or the average thirty-something-year-old man enjoying some down time on the weekend. But, Birbiglia’s has a story, and a way of telling this story, which you will have absolutely no choice but to be drawn into and entangled in his confident self-deprecating humour and his hilarious turn of phrase.

He seems genuinely surprised to see a wall of audience looking at him when we walks onto stage on opening night. Kept safe in the circumference of a follow spot, he makes his way across the stage, like a shy student about to present a book report.

The usual “please turn off your mobile phone” request is not a disembodied voice of God –but an appeal is given by Birbiglia that sets the tone for the show… an anecdote about phones complete with anthropomorphic phone impersonation in dialogue with Birbiglia’s impossibly sweet, smart and awkward as he is. The anecdote finishes, and he sums up in a sentence “So that’s why you should turn off your phone.”

Birbiglia’s show is based on a combination of personal confessions his relationship with women, kissing, relationships and his own unwavering need to be right/win an argument. He tells the story of how, on two occasions, he has had relationships with women, that have been seeing boyfriends other than him. Excruciatingly self aware and brutally honest –Birbiglia’s charm lies in his uncompromising intellect and his ability to make you like him, even if he’s being a bit of a jerk. It feels like he’s telling you a love story –where he is the fool and the fallen – and perhaps that’s because he is.

Unlike some comics, Birbiglia’s style is not bombastic, overt, aggressive, loud or cocky. He’s telling us a love story – and every now and then he stops, drops his voice and utters a sentence which resounds throughout the room, like a penny dropping. He admits his failures – even when he’s put in a lot of effort, some could say too much effort in defending or asserting an unwaivering principle. The sublime in Birbiglia comes from his ordinariness – his normalness, and for this normal person to encounter and handle the pain of everyday injustices, disappointments, embarrassments.

Awkwardly hilarious, brutally honest and beautifully tender, Birbiglia’s My Girlfriends Boyfriend is a brilliant piece of storytelling about love and learning to compromise.